Photographing your travels is the perfect way to document your adventures, but the end result often differs from what you saw through your own eyes. Use these composition tips next time you’re travelling to instantly improve the photos you’re taking.
1. Find a focal point
Almost all journeys off the beaten track dish up some breathtaking views along the way. When you catch sight of one, avoid the urge to simply snap away – instead, first look for a focal point. Even a landscape that looks amazing in person can look flat and unimpressive afterwards without a subject to frame it.
IMAGE: The tree in this image draws your eye, while offering more visual context than the sunset alone. The contrast between the subject and background also creates an intriguing visual juxtaposition.
IMAGE: The LandCruiser in this photo anchors the image by grabbing your attention, then leading your eyes down the track to the dramatic ranges in the background.
Using a focal point creates context for the image at large, while giving your photo an almost-intangible visual balance. For vehicular travel, a 4WD is often the perfect focal point for an image. As an adjacent point, try to keep the rule-of-thirds in mind when positioning your subject – look at enough landscape images and you’ll often find the focal point in the left or right lower-third of the image (rather than on the far edges).
2. Look for leading lines
Leading lines in photography are lines that draw a viewer’s gaze into an image or towards a subject. More often seen in man-made urban environments, leading lines in landscapes often manifest as roads or tracks, ranges, water courses or even something simple like a fallen tree. An otherwise bland image can become artistic and engaging with the use of leading lines, creating depth or symmetry which wasn’t there before.
IMAGE: Tracks are the perfect way to creating leading lines in an image.
IMAGE: Notice that the lines across this photo run from the bottom left to the mid-to-top right side of the image. Similar to the rule of thirds, it’s often best practice to avoid directing your leading lines straight into a corner, rather either side of them.
3. Don’t forget the foreground
An interesting foreground is one of the most underrated elements of landscape photography. If you get caught up in only capturing your main subject, you can lose the overall feel or scope of a scene; this leaves your image from a lookout, of a waterfall or otherwise appear incomplete or lacking depth.
IMAGE: The rocks and grass give you a better sense of the landscape stretching out along the track and to the ranges beyond.
Once you find a scene you want to capture, look for a foreground that tells the viewer more about the location and adds to the story of that particular image – you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.
IMAGE: The rocks in the foreground give some context as to the size and composition of Black Mountain. As a side note, notice how the image creates depth from bottom-right to top-left using the rocks, Black Mountain and the ranges in the distance.
4. Think about your camera height
Camera height has a profound impact on the feeling an image conveys about a scene. Countless travel photographers make the mistake of simply putting their camera up to their face (or setting up their tripod), taking their photos from a standing position, then calling it a day. Getting low to the ground can put the emphasis on an interesting foreground and lead a viewer’s eyes through the image, while standing on a rock or raised area will give your image a grander scope and reveal the potential for unique compositions.
IMAGE: Getting low on this shot pulls a viewer’s attention from the rivulets in the sand up the beach, while also delivering a greater sense of distance. Notice how the height of the camera has accentuated the leading lines in the sand.
IMAGES: The first image works perfectly well, however the second delivers a greater feeling of space and separateness than is usually achievable with eye-level images.
5. Go for a short walk
If you’re finding it hard to make an image work with the above tips in mind, try shifting your perspective by going for a walk. Whether you’re climbing up a ridgeline to give your image a more epic feel, taking a few steps back or to the side, or walking a kilometre up the road, putting in a bit of effort to find the right position can transform your image from average to spectacular. This same rule applies when it comes to photographing popular locations – after all, who wants to come back with a beautiful image that has been done the same way by a thousand other travellers?
IMAGES: The first image is a stock-standard beachside sunset, while the stunning perspective of the second (taken a few minutes later) was made possible by a short hike up the hillside.